Not the Dolce Vita

Madonna in an advertisement for Dolce & Gabbana. Credit: Dolce & Gabbana.

Part IV – Life of the Italian Super-Mamma – Not the ‘Dolce Vita’

As recent articles have shown, traditions, manners, discipline and parenting habits can vary dramatically from one country to the next, but the Italian Mamma is up against more than her counterparts in the US and France.

A fascinating study by three women at the prestigious University of Bocconi in Milan titled “Mothers Who Work: Economics, Income and Rights” (Alessandra Casarico, Paola Profeta, Lidia Ceriani) revealed some depressing statistics for Italian Mammas. They discovered that most of the housework in Italy is done by women and that women spend 80 minutes more working everyday than men both in the home and outside the home. They compared that with Spain where women work 54 minutes more than men every day and in the United States and Norway where there is no difference.

An Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report turned that statistic around showing that Italian men have 80 minutes more leisure time every day than women. Could that be because they are not doing the cooking, cleaning, washing and ironing at home???

The Bocconi study also showed that 81,4 % of Italians believe that children will suffer if their mamma works. I’ve been on the receiving end of concerns about this issue. Italians are often astounded when they learn that I have three children and also maintain a relatively demanding job with Associated Press Television in Rome.

It is no wonder that 27 % of Italian women quit work after having a child, according to an OECD report. I have found that even when they do keep their jobs Italian Mammas will drop everything for the smallest problem with a child. I know a mother who managed to get permission for two weeks off work as a high-school teacher when she found out her son had lice.

Interestingly, Italy has one of the lowest birthrates in the world. According to the Italian National Statistics Institute (ISTAT) the birthrate in Italy was 1,42 per woman in 2011. Perhaps this is because Italian women know how hard it is to be an Italian Super-Mamma.

In 2011 the World Economic Forum published its Gender Gap Report ranking countries on the treatment of women. The study looked at a variety of issues including economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health, longevity and political empowerment. Out of 135 countries Italy was 74th. That is in comparison with 17th for the United States and 48th for France. Iceland was number 1.

Not exactly a ‘Dolce Vita’ or a ‘Roman Holiday’ for Italian Mammas!

I’ve found that I don’t have the time, energy of patience to live up to the standards of the Italian Super-Mammas. Many of my Italian Mamma friends tackle their tasks with determination, enthusiasm, and creativity. They manage to be stylish and sophisticated while pushing themselves to exhaustion to make life easier for their husbands and children in a society that does not help them.

I am not the greatest cook, I hate doing laundry, and, unfortunately for me, I don’t look like Sophia Loren but I think my kids might just be better for it. And you will never see me dragging Nico’s laundry all over the country; he will learn to do it himself.

9 thoughts on “Not the Dolce Vita”

  1. An excellent blog coupling the fertility rate to the difference in working hours of men and women. In Italy the women work 80 minutes more than men everyday with a fertility rate of 1.4. You noted that in Norway men and women work the same number of hours per day. According to the Economist, the fertility rate in Norway is 1.9.

    In order to keep the population constant the desired fertility rate is 2.1. It would seem that for Italy to match just the Norway rate that would be a 36% increase and it would only take the effort to have the men work as many hours as the women. If you know a good economist, he might be able to quantify the economic gain to Italy to have a growing, dynamic Italian workforce competing in the Euro zone.

    1. Wow, Uncle Bob, we better get Gustavo working on that one. He needs to do the economic study, but he can also start washing the dishes and making the bed and doing 80 minutes more work at home!!

      The one statistic that is hard to change is the belief by so many people that children suffer if their mother works. Another fact that I didn’t mention in the post is that immigration population is growing in Italy and I’ve heard that iy is pushing up the birthrate slightly. And, the immigrant workers are taking over some of the work traditionally left for the Mammas. So, more people have live-in or full-time baby-sitters. Also, in Italy, care for the elderly is often left to the Mamma. To take my husband’s family as an example, my husband’s grandmother lived with his parents until she died at age 96. My husband’s mother cared for her own mother. Italians usually keep the elderly at home rather than putting them in nursing homes as is common in the states. Traditionally it has fallen on the Mamma to care for the elderly parents. That also is changing with the arrival or immigrant workers. Now more people get a “badante” or a care-takers to help with the elderly at home.

      There is no doubt though that Italy needs to use its women better if it wants to be competitive in Europe!!

  2. Sei una bravissima mammina, Trisha! A certain CSN &Y song comes to mind….”Teach Your Children Well” and it sounds like you are managing that quite well.

    1. Thank you for the compliment, but I am not so sure about that. Now that two out of three are teenagers it is an uphill struggle. Doesn’t really matter what nationality you are or what traditions you have, teenagers are hard work!!

  3. Brava – speaking truth to power! Fascinating study, what does the mozzarella pappa have to say about this? Or the mini Piga mozarellas? Seems to me they are old enough to start having some in depth gender discussions?

    1. In Italy the usual term to describe the 40-year-old men whose Mammas do their laundry and cook them pasta is “Mammoni”, roughly translated big Mamma-boys. (Mammoni are worth their own blog post some day) You definitely will not hear many men complaining about the status quo but in the past year a group of women have launched a series of protests called “Se Non Ora Quando” (If not Now When). They have organized rallies with hundreds of thousands of women all over Italy to protest the situation of women in Italy. One of their key phrases which I will translate below is: “Abbiamo detto e continuiamo a dire con tutta la nostra voce che l’Italia non è un paese per donne. Noi vogliamo che lo sia. ” We have said and continue to say at the top of our lungs that Italy is not a country for women. We want it to be one.” I am proud to say that I know one of the founders and organizers, Francesca Comencini, who happens to be the mother of Nico’s good friend Leon. So I think there is a pretty good chance that both Nico and Leon won’t grow up to become Mammoni. One day I will do a post on Francesca Comencini and the “Se Non Ora Quando” Movement.

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